The Jack White of 2018 May Not Be What You're Used To

So, 2018's Jack White may be a little different, but it's still Jack White.
So, 2018's Jack White may be a little different, but it's still Jack White. David Swanson
Love, hate, or indifferent, you’ve probably heard at least one wacky tale about guitarist, singer, and songwriter Jack White. The entertainer’s antics range from punching the singer of The Von Bondies in Detroit to writing a children’s book, from breaking the Guinness World Record for the world’s fastest studio-to-store album to a baseball bat he touched being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But even though he’s done absurd shit like that literal one-note show in Newfoundland, Canada, he’s clearly beloved, and has been for years. He’s been in umpteen bands, he’s a business owner, and he’s a filthy rich rock star. He’s a weirdo, but people got used to his eccentricities and perhaps came to expect them.

In the Nashville area, it’s very easy to play Six Degrees of Jack White. People have stories of seeing him in restaurants, and area park rangers talk about spotting him hiking through state parks. If you go to his Third Man Records storefront in the artsy Pie Town neighborhood, it’ll probably be packed.

In Phoenix — not so much. We like our stories to be about Doug Hopkins, or how we spotted Jim Adkins somewhere, or who went to high school with Emma Pew, or the usual “Did you know Waylon Jennings is buried out in Mesa?” But Jack White is a well-known musician, and his fame has obviously washed over this major metropolitan area — enough so that he’s playing the 5,000-seat Comerica Theatre later this month, even if it is his first solo show in the Valley.

This year, White released a new album, Boarding House Reach, and the blue tones of the album cover and promo art have him looking less like the goth cowboy of Icky Thump and more like a nu-goth, like Robert Smith minus the mascara.

The famously contrarian musician did the usual post-album activities, like appearing on Saturday Night Live in April with new singles around the same time his ghostly but damned-if-it-ain’t-sexy-sometimes frowny face appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. The cover story within was an illuminating day-in-the-life where he was quoted as saying, “I haven’t had that moment yet, of ‘I have no inspiration, I have no idea what to do tomorrow.’”

If Boarding House Reach is any evidence, White may be a little too inspired. Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop called the record “Jack White’s most unmarketable album yet,” praising its bizarre mixture of styles and experimental production. On the other side of the scale, Pitchfork (yes, we can hear you groaning) called it “a long, bewildering slog” with the writer lamenting, “What I wouldn’t give for a flash of bright red, something with the verve or conviction of even his slightest Stripes material.” That’s pretty spot-on — you want to have fun with Jack White’s music. It can make you feel confident and sassy, because he can be so cool, he’s clearly so talented, and some even think he’s pretty funny, too. Think back to comedian Rory Scovel’s ridiculous take on him in the Netflix special Rory Scovel Tries Stand-Up for the First Time, or maybe that so-pretentious-it’s-funny intro to It Might Get Loud, his jam session documentary with Jimmy Page and The Edge.

Whether you like his new stuff may actually depend on you. Maybe you enjoyed the seemingly self-absorbed crotchety rock purist of yesteryear to the slow downed, hazy blue version of his 2018 self. Maybe you like the turn-of-the-century garage rock stuff better, or perhaps you prefer the folksy Delta full-band stuff. Maybe you always thought he was lame, and this new record isn’t going to change your mind. But if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you think Jack White is, at the very least, an interesting guy.

Jack White 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, August 22, at Comerica Theatre, 400 West Washington Street; 602-379-2800; Tickets start at $53.50 via Live Nation.
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Lauren Cusimano was the Phoenix New Times food editor from 2018 to 2021. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.